jenn jay tales

Jennifer Johnston shares her travel tales; life adventures; observations, photos and random thoughts

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Renovation jitters – the next phase

Renovation phase three

You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t been exposed to stories about renovations. They’re everywhere. Magazines and blogs share renovation yarns. Reality TV shows like the Block and House Rules allow viewers to gain an insight into the tension a renovation project incurs. As both a reader and a viewer – none of these prepare you for what reno stress actually FEELS like, until you undertake a renovation yourself. Continue reading


So the reno begins

Renovation update

This blog post has been written / not published / added to but now its time to publish and update as the reno project finally takes BIG shape!

To recap

The renovation madness upped its pace significantly last month. All was under control. I was working towards a start date in 8 weeks. But a phone call from the builder about 6 weeks ago asking how I was going with finding rental accommodation changed all that. He wanted to start a month earlier!  I know – unheard of in the building game – right?!

My to do list became very pressing:

  1. find rental accommodation
  2. pack up my house

The shipping container arrives

Part way through planning the project I thought about organising a shipping container which could sit on the (to be) spare block and allow me to store some of my furniture.  Sound like a good idea? Well it was until 2 tonnes of steel in the form of a 20 foot shipping container turned up at my place early one Friday morning.  Issue one was going to be the council tree on the footpath – right in the centre of where the truck needed to reverse.  The tree had been reported to council about four weeks earlier BUT despite it being declared “R” for removal – this can take up to 6 weeks. Of course it was still on the footpath the day the driver arrived.  So he planned a different path onto my sloping site. There was a stage where I thought two tonnes of steel and a large truck were going to flip sideways – such was the angle the poor guy had to get his tilt tray in to the space.

Yikes not an easy delivery

Yikes not an easy delivery

Anyways thanks to the persistence of the driver – and 45 minutes of manoeuvring his truck inch by inch,  he managed to place the container on site – maybe a little closer to the boundary than I wanted but it was there. Lesson to me – maybe I shouldn’t be on site watching things like this – my heart skipped many beats that morning!

installed one container

installed one container

I also thought I could try and sell my existing kitchen so that was out of the house before the builder started the partial demolition. That was another hopeful – later turning into a bit of a saga. It’s thankfully behind me now and I don’t wish to re-visit that part of my reno process – just enjoy the empty space that was my kitchen!

Kitchen before

Kitchen before

kitchen goneski

kitchen goneski

And I may never advertise items like that on gumtree ever again – but ……. let’s get on.



Certification Red Tape

My next step: check with my certifier what was required to tick all those red tape boxes so the reno work could commence.  When you make a decision to save on Project Management fees and do it yourself you know you are in for a steep learning curve.  Just how steep is the question. Terms that come into your world previously you’ve never heard of. My certifier enlightened me on a few. I needed a soil and sediment report? What? An Earthworks Management plan? What’s that and why?

Many phone calls and emails later – I discovered because my block of land is high set, it could be classed as a hazard when the excavation works begins. In heavy rain “silt” could run off and down the road upsetting the neighbours and those who use the road.  We don’t want that!  I express some of my frustrations to my certifier – so much red tape, “welcome to my world,” he responds.  I was starting to wonder whether taking on the Project Management role was such a good idea! Trying to save $10k was my motivation but the stress levels were rising.

I needed an engineer a RPEQ (a Registered Practising Engineer.) Also I learn good old hay bales and silt barriers prevent soil erosion. The learning curve is ongoing. Thankfully my laid back structural engineer is also a RPEQ and was able to do the required report at the 11th hour to complete the soil and sediment report as part of the compliance to allow the builders to commence the demolition on site.

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

The builder and engineer discuss my steel issues

I’ve realised I like working with lists. Via email I asked my certifier to list what specifically I need to obtain and then try and get my ignorant head around what everything means. “I have checked the conditions of the development permit that was issued by Brisbane City Council, you will need to have the following items/documents prepared to satisfy the condition of the approval, these items are not conditioned to be undertaken prior to me issuing the building approval but will need to be undertaken prior to the start of on-site works,” emails my patient certifier. This is how I work best. A background in human resources and currently as a writer means I naturally ask questions, when I don’t know what I’m talking about (which in this project has been often!) The reports were done in time and the building project has begun.

Packing up and moving

And then the joys of packing a house you’ve lived in for 15.5 years. How do we accumulate so much stuff!?  Because the build was brought forward, I had less time to de-clutter so in the end I moved more stuff than I thought as I ran out of time to deal with the extra. A few facebook friends were amused that despite my youngest is 12 years of age – I listed a porta cot and baby toys on a buy / swap / sell site.  It’s a case of you have the storage space – you store (in my situation!) The shipping container is actually the equivalent of a three bedroomed house.  And I was moving to a three bedroomed house. I calculated that must mean the container will not be filled – wrong!

The move was completed and I spent much of Easter filling my little Golf vehicle with all the excess stuff that didn’t make it into the removalist’s van!  I really don’t wish to ever move again – but my reality is when the house is ready – I’ll be moving baaack!  With less “stuff” I hope – as I’m trying to offload excess at this end!  Marie Kondo – de-clutter guru – applying her principle of what does not give me “joy” must go!  Easier said than done.

The partial demolition

It’s been four weeks now and the demo works that went on over the first two weeks was startling. Probably was always going to be the case when walls are smashed and removed. And of course my three boys wanted to be involved in the smashing of walls. (Just NOT the removal of it!) Fraser had much fun getting stuck into his walls!

Fraser the destructor

Destructor Fraser

The demo lads take a "V" breather

The real demo lads take a “V” breather

I would check on the demo lads progress at the end of each day. With sledgehammers, saws, drills and determination – they quickly removed much of my house. Skip bins were filled and emptied and re-filled, then emptied.

House profile before

House profile before

House profile after the back has been removed

House profile after the back has been removed

The skips came and went

The skips came and went

Recyclers – its best not to think about what went out of my house into fill somewhere – I saved what I could – but some things just disappeared.  I have a couple of neighbours keen on recycling and site visits would often include them updating me on what they have removed to “use” again down the track.  I’ve never conversed with my neighbours as much as I am now!

Its been a nervous few weeks. I decided to make an 11th hour bid to re-gain some of my city glimpses back by going up another half metre in height.  Watching the reno work on the house in front – I realised (a little late maybe) I should consider raising my house to the full height allowed under Council regulation (9.5metres.)  Great idea until my certifier pointed out my Development Application had only been approved to 9.0 metres.

City glimpses before

City glimpses before

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

Neighbours house raise meant bye to those city glimpses

One last minute approval

My certifier had to submit a siting variation application to Council to go up an extra half a metre.  We put the house raisers off and hoped to have approval by the time the date came round for them to start. Each day I was told “hopefully” tomorrow. Additional steel was ordered for the added height – punting on getting approval.

Last Friday the approval came through – 13 days after submission. Guess 13 was my lucky number!

This week the big event is due to begin: the house move and raise. Watch this space. I’ve left the builder with a few headaches which involves a few variations.  But nothing is really ever meant to be smooth sailing with renovations – is it?

More exciting times ahead.


Lest we forget

A war medal finds it way back to family

A story about Family / tragedy / intrigue / mystery and relevance for ANZAC day

Digging in his Tarragindi side garden, Mat Schliebs discovered a piece of metal. “Initially I thought it was part of a child’s toy or a piece of scrap metal,” said Mat. “It was buried almost 30cm deep.” He showed it to the rest of the family. They cleaned the dirt off and to their surprise discovered it was actually a war medal. Engraved on the back was an inscription: DS Parkinson service number QX13579.

The Pacific Star Medal (photo: courtesy Courier Mail)

The Pacific Star Medal (photo: courtesy Courier Mail)

Mat’s 8yo son Flynn suggested they should try and find a family relative of DS Parkinson and return the medal to them. “My mum and I looked up DS Parkinson’s family tree and information about him on WWII, which said he was captured by the Japanese and he died in prison during the war,” says Flynn. “ We cleaned and polished the medal and we wanted to find who it belonged to.”

Flynn emailed Brisbane’s Courier Mail newspaper to ask if they could help find the family of this soldier. This story was published on Thursday 7th April calling for any family or relatives to come forward.

The family connection

My mother phoned me on the afternoon of Thursday 7th April, to say she had a bit of news to share. A medal belonging to her Uncle Des had been found. Mum was excited and surprised. I couldn’t believe it either! She was having difficulty contacting the family, so I located the story on-line and contacted the journalist Trenton Akers who wrote the story for the Courier Mail. He co-ordinated contacting Megan Schliebs – Flynn’s mother. I let Megan know Des’ niece Nanette Johnston (my mother) – was still alive and co-incidentally lives in Tarragindi.

Des Parkinson his story

Desmond Stanley Parkinson was born on the 30th October 1910 in Woolloongabba (now Buranda) Brisbane. He was the youngest of four children, with one older sister Vera and two older brothers Frank and Arthur.

baby Des Parkinson

baby Des Parkinson

Des started primary school as a 6yo at the Dunellen Provisional School, which later became the Greenslopes State School.  In July 1925 Des attended the Church of England Grammar school (Churchie.) He represented Churchie in the A cricket team in 1927-28 and in rugby in 1927.

1927 - Churchie and the A Grade cricket team (Des 2nd from right front row)

1927 – Churchie and the A Grade cricket team

1927 Churchie first XIII (Des 1st from left front row)

1927 Churchie first thirteen

Leaving school at the age of 18, Des worked for the Queensland Trustees, until he enlisted in the Australian army in July 1940.  Corporal Des Parkinson was sent to Singapore in August 1941. He was immediately promoted to Sergeant and sent to Malaya where troops trained to fight against the Japanese.  The family received correspondence from Des during his time serving in Singapore.

Des Parkinson WWII ready for war

Des Parkinson WWII ready for war

But the Australian and British forces surrendered to Japan on the 15th February 1942 and all Commonwealth soldiers became Prisoners of War. This is when the correspondence from Des became erratic.

My mother has actively researched the history of the event surrounding Sandakan and Des’ fate as a prisoner of war. Over the years she read many books and has been involved with the Sandakan memorial foundation. The following information about her Uncle Des is sourced from her research.

Many of the prisoners of War were sent to Changi prison in Singapore, but due to overcrowding in this prison, large numbers were sent to Sandakan. On 7 July 1942, “B” Force, including Des sailed from Singapore on the Japanese ship “Yubi Maru” for Sandakan, Borneo, arriving at Sandakan 11 days later. In total, 2,750 prisoners of war comprised of the Australian 8th Division and remnants of various British units were moved to Sandakan. By September 1944, the numbers had fallen to 1767 Australian and 641 British.


POW Number 312.

As far as we know, Des remained at Sandakan until he was sent on the 1st Death March to Ranau. By the end of 1944 when allied forces were within striking distance of Sandakan the Japanese command ordered the prisoners be removed inland to Ranau, (256 kilometres) west. These became known as the “infamous” Death Marches.  In January 1945, 470 prisoners guarded by 500 Japanese were forced to march through almost impenetrable jungle along narrow tracks of mud, through swamps and over treacherous mountains. Many of the prisoners were suffering from advanced stages of diseases and malnutrition but were still forced to march through miles of some of the most difficult country in Borneo, terminating at Ranau on the foot of Mt Kinabalu.

The second march comprising 532 prisoners left Sandakan on 29 May 1945. 183 arrived at Ranau on 26 June to find only eight survivors from the first march. Of the 288 prisoners left at Sandakan, none survived to the end of the war. The Japanese said no prisoners should live to testify what had gone on in the years they were prisoners of war.  Sadly despite receiving official news of surrender, the remaining 33 surviving prisoners at Ranau were killed by the Japanese.

In a book written by Lynette Silver (Sandakan – A Conspiracy of Silence, published 1998) it is recorded Des reached Ranau but died a few days later on the 19th February 1945. He was buried at Ranau 1A. The cause of death recorded was malaria / acute enteritis. Of the 1,800 Australians sent to Sandakan, only six survived – because they escaped. In total, 2,428 Australian and British prisoners of war died on the Sandakan to Ranau Death Marches during World War II.

Sandakan camp

Sandakan camp

The family is notified

Des’ surviving sister Vera (my grandmother) was notified of Des’ death in October, 1945 – eight months after his actual death. They then had the unenviable task of telling Des’ mother he’d died. At the end of the WWII Ettie Parkinson had prepared Des’ room, cleaned his shoes, anticipating his return. According to my mother, she was devastated about Des’ death and never recovered from the terrible news. Ettie died a few months later, on 12th February, 1946 (aged 73 and a half.) It was said she died of a broken heart, caused by the news of Des’ death.

1922 Desmond and his mother Ettie Parkinson

1922 Desmond and his mother Ettie Parkinson

“I only knew Des for a few short years, as I was only nine years old when he left Australia, never to return, but I still have some vivid memories of him and happy times,” says Nanette. “He was my favourite Uncle, and he will remain in my memory forever.”


The War Medals

In 1951 the Australian Government posthumously awarded Des Parkinson four military medals. With the exception of the Australian War Medal, they were sent to the Queensland Trustees. The family has correspondence from the Central Army Records Office of this. From here there is no knowledge of where the medals were sent. Unfortunately due to a family rift which occurred when Des was serving his country overseas, there was no contact among Vera Lavis and her surviving older brothers Frank and Arthur Parkinson (who both went to war in WWI).  No one (on our side of the family) is really sure why the family divided but it was after their father, Frank Comer Parkinson died (13th April 1941.) My grandmother never cared to discuss the family division – asking her about it caused her grief.

My mother nor her brother Alan Lavis knows how Des’ Pacific Star medal ended up in the Tarragindi garden bed, until Liesl Harrold, filled in a vital missing piece. A third generation family historian with specialist skills in built heritage and statistical research, Liesl read the article in the Courier Mail and saw an opportunity to  test her genealogy skills to help in some way. “Having relatives of my own who served their country during the World Wars, I can appreciate how much a missing medal can mean to a family especially with ANZAC day being fairly close,” says Liesl.

Liesl’s research revealed the house once belonged to Errol Parkinson, the son of Arthur Harold Parkinson, one of Des’ older brothers. There is no information about how the medal came to be buried or whether there is only one.  Could there be more? Errol Parkinson passed away in 2010. It appears the Queensland Trustees may have passed the medal (s) to Arthur Parkinson and then to Errol. Without contact with any side of his family no one is sure.  But to be certain there are no further medals buried, we’re organising a metal detector to check the garden bed before it is filled in.

Medal Presentation

As a special tribute Megan Schliebs contacted Weller’s Hill Primary school’s principal John Webster to ask if the missing medal could be returned to my mother in their annual ANZAC ceremony. This took place in a moving ceremony on Friday April 22nd. My mother was presented with the medal by RAF Wing Commander Merilyn White with Ivy and Flynn from the Schliebs family.


Nanette Johnston and Wing Commander Merilyn White

Nanette Johnston and Wing Commander Merilyn White

Nanette Johnston and her brother Alan Lavis have never sighted any of Des’ war medals and are delighted one has been found. They’re grateful to the Schliebs family for retrieving such a treasure.  “To see and hold one of Uncle Des’ medals for the first time is very special,” said Nanette. “I’m very grateful to the Schliebs family and to the school for their involvement. This is a very special ANZAC ceremony.”  The generous way the Schliebs have handled this has touched all of our family – including my cousins and we can’t thank them enough for the special part they have played in this story.

The Schliebs family and mum

The Schliebs family and mum

Des Parkinson is my great Uncle. His is one story among millions. On ANZAC Day we remember – those who have fallen and have given their lives in the various wars over the years. So many family members are affected by war and the impact of loss continues to be felt many generations later.

Lest we forget.



Outlander Fervour and the lesson I learnt

Outlander fans are getting excited

The trailer has been released for Outlander Series 2, to tease fans for what awaits them in 2016. I confess to being one of those fans. So much so, I combined my love for Scotland and Outlander together into a Travel Story – a tourism trend piece on Scotland with Outlander as the hook! That story was recently published via Fairfax New Zealand’s on-line site : Scotland and the Outlander effect gathers momentum

On location - Doune Castle

Scotland revels in Outlander Fever – some of the Outlander cast on location – Doune Castle

I’ve already written a post on my Travel Blog about the story behind the story.  With a few Outlander posts, I may appear a little Outlander obsessed at the moment. Maybe its because I’m still caught up in the excitement of finally seeing my story published. (Written in June, the original story commissioned by an Australian publication was never published – for reasons that shall remain “unspoken!”)  But it’s more than publication joy. I wrote this wee blog post because Diana Gabaldon – the author of the popular Outlander books who also happens to have major responsibility in the series being developed for TV – recently made an announcement on her Facebook page.  Continue reading

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Freshen up your furniture

Project DIY

A blog about my experience, with an “easy to use” product to give my old furniture a “face-lift.”

I have some pieces of furniture, purchased about 20 years ago, when hand made heritage style furniture was the “in” thing. The style also suited my traditional Queenslander house.

My heavy, dark set of Chairs, table and bookshelf.

My heavy, dark set of Chairs, table and bookshelf.

A few decades later, my circumstances having changed, (not to mention styles,) I tried to sell the furniture on E bay and Gumtree.  I didn’t think I was asking too many $$$ for the pieces, as they are hand-made and crafted using heritage timber. But they did not sell and I wasn’t about to leave them on the footpath for someone to pick up for free. (Well I could have, but I felt these pieces were too good for that.) The footpath has been the perfect place to de-clutter and provide the drivers by with a “treasure”, but that’s another story for another day.

Back to my heritage furniture – what to do?  I was thinking of  creating a distressed look (on already stressed furniture) – what I call a French Provincial style.

A search on Facebook revealed some clever people who buy furniture in garage sales and on ebay, then transform them, with a face lift  So I emailed them, with a few questions and the lovely Sandy Palmer came back with plenty of information and tips. She recommended I use a product called Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and Soft wax

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and Soft wax

Continue reading

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Procrastination is a curse

Merry, Merry and Festive Cheer ……….. hang on, its 2014 already!

I am writing this quick post almost as an apology to myself and to the readers out there who may check in on me occasionally. I admit to being very remiss (slack) in the blogging world and not posting anything at all on Jenn Jay Tales for a few months.

I have kept up my reading though and too many other blog sites have reminders indicating a good writing (routine) is to post at least once a week. WELL can someone please explain that to:

  • My three boys who have taken up a little of my time over our summer school holidays which for High school kids commences stretches from the end of November right through to the day after Australia Day;
  • The household chores that never seem to disappear;
  • The Christmas shopping that was squeezed in when the kids were at school – hold on, that was December and now it is three quarters into January, I do not have Christmas and its associated time consuming activities as an excuse.
Jenn and Christmas tree jpg

Jenn takes time out to “celebrate” Christmas

 There is also a new consumer of my time. A few months ago, I re-entered the work-force (to a part-time office role.) This has been a new juggle struggle for me, fronting up to an office at 8.30am and lasting (as in making it) through to 5pm. The last couple of years,  I was working entirely from home and my week’s schedule had been fairly free and flexible. The challenge of working from a home office locale is actually making yourself accountable and sticking to a routine. Distractions are a frequent up-setter of routines if you are not disciplined.

The hours set down for my “writing” were allocated, after gym time which became a regular morning habit after school drop off. Often the chores around the house intervened and I found myself distracted on a regular basis.

My goal is to earn money from writing and I was successfully sabotaging any chance of that happening.  I don’t know about other writers out there in the literary world, but I seem to take an hour or two to kick into writing mode and snatched moments sadly do not allow my creative thoughts to flow.

To overcome this and until creative writing starts earning me a comfortable income, my working part-time assists with the bills, keeps me in touch with “real” people and the world beyond my home office walls.

I admit this dwindles my spare time (called my writing time) down to minuscule moments, but……….. wait a moment, just listen to me, I am heading there yet again: PROCRASTINATING AND MAKING EXCUSES.

No more! 2014 is my year of change.

January is a good time to start (even though it is now past mid-January). As a writer who has taken a leave of absence, I am raring to go with a few story ideas and thoughts to share.

No more excuses – if nothing else going back to an office role has spurred me into motivation to make it happen.  More blog posts; more creative writing and more pitching to ensure Jenn Jay is published.

Jenn and her boys 2 jpg

Jenn and time consumer No. 2 & 3

Happy New Year to you all and not that I am counting down, but it is six days until the new school year commences ………………

Jenn and James jpg

Jenn and time consumer No. 1